Eric Bilik of the Mass DOT discusses a culvert replacement with the Williamstown Conservation Commission.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Water, water everywhere, and most of it seemed to find its way to the feet of the town's Conservation Commission on Thursday evening.
The panel dealt with residents' concerns about surface flooding, basement flooding and siltation at three different sites around town.
The main event of the evening was a hearing with representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, who appeared before the commissioners for approval of a planing and resurfacing project on Route 7 (from Jerome Drive north to the Vermont state line) and two sections of Route 2: from the Route 2 and 7 intersection west to the New York line and from Cole Avenue east to the North Adams line.
Approval for that project — scheduled to begin in late spring 2014 — was relatively routine. Maintenance of existing roads is grandfathered under the commonwealth's Wetlands Protection Act, and the commission's role is essentially to verify that no significant changes are planned.
But the discussion of resurfacing the stretch of Route 2 on the east side of town opened the door to a conversation about work the town would like to see done below the road. Namely, the town and Main Street (Route 2) residents Mark and Chanda Shin asked MassDOT
to redo the culvert that brings water runoff under the highway and onto the Spruces Mobile Home Park property across the way.
MassDOT engineer Eric Bilik told the Con Comm that he believes the problem of flooding on the south side of Route 2 — and occasionally on the road itself — can be addressed by increasing the size of the culvert at that location from the current 36-inch pipe to a 54-inch pipe.
The larger culvert and the addition of a swale on the mobile home park site where the pipe discharges would handle the volume of water in a 100-year storm, Bilik said.
That would be welcome news to the Shin family, which has been under stress from 100-day storms in recent years.
"We're not talking about a wet basement," Chanda Shin told commissioners and MassDOT officials on Thursday. "We're not talking about damaged property. We're talking about 30 minutes [of rain] and knee-deep water. We're talking about our safety.
"I really appreciate the state's understanding the situation and not wanting to make us live through any more thunderstorms."
What the larger culvert under Route 2 will not do, Bilik said, is solve the flooding problems either "upstream" in the Luce Road neighborhood or "downstream" in the mobile home park.
There will be some easing of the sheet flooding in the park, he said. The swale MassDOT proposes would ease some of the pressure created by the inadequate pipe that carries water under the Spruces and north into the Hoosic River.
But it won't "flood proof" the 114-acre park, Bilik said.
"No, that's the second flood plain," he said in answer to a question from Commissioner Sarah Gardner. "That's the flooding of the Hoosic River. ... You would have to do something comprehensive watershed-wise to stop that."
As for the Luce Road neighborhood, its problems stem from inadequate drainage in that area, not from the bottleneck to be alleviated by the 54-inch culvert under the highway, Bilik explained.
In answer to a question from Chairman Philip McKnight, Bilik said the Luce Road problem could be addressed separately — for the right price.
"That's out of my realm," Bilik said. "I don't have a DOT wallet."
MassDOT's Mark Moore, who joined Bilik and Nicholas Hopkins before the commission, said funding might be available to address Luce Road, but it was outside the scope of the Route 2 project.
"[The flooding on Luce Road] is not affecting the state highway, so it's not in our jurisdiction," Moore said. "You're talking about a much more substantial project that could be eligible for federal funds if the town wanted to work with DOT."
Moore said if MassDOT cannot install the new culvert this fall, the project will have to wait until after the spring runoff is exhausted. That would not hold up resurfacing on the road because the state's contractor could be busy on the other two segments in the spring and early summer.
Moore also told the Con Comm that MassDOT foresees no road closings during the resurfacing project. Stretches of each highway would be limited to one lane of traffic during the work.
Basement flooding was the issue for Longview Terrace resident Robert Scerbo, who came before the commission on Thursday to ask it to consider ordering maintenance in a retention basin that controls runoff from the Longview neighborhood, which was constructed in the 1980s and '90s.
Scerbo said water backs up into his basement every few years, and the problem has been solved in the past when the town came and cleaned out silt and vegetation from the basin.
Town Public Works Director Timothy Kaiser spoke to Scerbo's concerns and said while it is true that water occasionally backs up from the retention pond, the problem is not vegetation that grows in the pond. In fact, the vegetation is part of the design previously approved by the Con Comm.
Elayne Murphy raised concerns about water turbidity near the Clark Art Institute construction. The commission said it would monitor the problem
The pond was designed to slow down the flow of water during heavy rain so that the development at Longview Terrace did not increase flooding problems downhill, Kaiser said. Occasionally, during very heavy rains, water backs up from the pond into the storm drain — again, by design.
Kaiser said he believes the best way for Scerbo to address his basement flooding problem is to disconnect his sump pump from the town's storm drain system.
The commission agreed to plan a site visit to the Longview Terrace neighborhood later this fall.
In other business Thursday, commissioners heard from Elayne Murphy, who supplied documentation of turbid (cloudy) water running off the construction site at the Clark Art Institute. She already had expressed her concerns to the construction company at the project (through an intermediary), but she wanted to make the town aware of them as well.
Town Conservation Agent Andrew Groff thanked Murphy for reporting the problem and told the commission that he believed the problem had been addressed by the Clark's contractor. But both Groff and the commission told Murphy they would continue to monitor the situation.